Some Democrats are nervous about Republican legislative leaders’ move to implement a software system for lawmakers’ constituent communications and casework, fearing it could compromise sensitive information and possibly even be used against them politically.
Further from the Times-Free Press:
That prompted a Sept. 22 email from Scott Gilmer, House Speaker Beth Harwell’s chief of staff, assuring members the software system is similar to that used by the governor’s office, state departments and the U.S. Congress to manage constituent issues and calls.
“To clarify,” Gilmer wrote, “this is only a tool to be utilized at your discretion. There is no requirement for you or legislative staff to utilize it.”
He noted that “at the end of your service in the General Assembly, the information will not be retained unless there are records you wish to forward to your successor.”
Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, said she doesn’t expect to use the system.
“I’ve acquired a huge database through the years and I can contact people almost instantly, said Favors, a retired nurse who often fields requests from constituents on health issues.
“I use my own iPad because I feel I can write anything I want to and maintain confidentiality,” she said.
Lawmakers often are asked for help in sensitive areas, from those needing to cut bureaucratic red tape to problems with business regulations or other issues. They maintain their own lists of constituent contacts, often including political supporters. The lists are used for newsletters, holiday card mailings, email blasts and more.
In sum, it’s prized information and the thought of anyone, regardless of party, possibly obtaining access — let alone a successful election challenger — gives some the jitters.
“I’m not inclined to send all my information anywhere unless I know for sure what it’s for and who’s using it and why,” said Rep. Sherry Jones, D-Nashville.
…In her Aug. 24 email to House and Senate staffers, Connie Ridley, director of legislative administration, said the software integrates with the Outlook email program, allowing staff to track and respond to constituents’ views and needs.
“We believe it will take a large part of the burden of the day-to-day operations of the Members’ offices off of the staff and help you complete routine tasks quicker and easier,” Ridley added.
Over on the Senate side, there appears to be less apprehension… Asked whether Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey is requiring senators and their staffs to use the system, Ramsey spokesman Adam Kleinheider said, “We have every reason to expect that all employees will use the new software.”
…A former Republican House member, (House Clerk Joe) McCord said he recalls when lawmakers were first given email and iPads “and everyone thought [then-Democratic Speaker] Jimmy Naifeh was going to read their email.” Eventually, lawmakers generally accepted both.